Guest Column | Diné military women attend national ceremony
Recognized and invited by the national organization Military Women Memorial, the Navajo Women Veterans Group participated in the Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 11 on the memorial grounds in Arlington, Virginia, a stone’s throw away from Washington, D.C.
Those who attended were Helene Anthony, a U.S. Marine veteran who served during the Vietnam era; Linda Onesalt, a U.S. Navy veteran who served during the Persian Gulf/Desert Storm; and Bazhnibah, a U.S. Air Force veteran who served post Bosnia as a flight nurse in the USAF Nurse Corps serving in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.
Other members include Angela Barney-Nez, a former Miss Navajo and U.S. Army veteran who served post-Vietnam; Laris Manuelito, U.S. Army, served OIF/OEF; Barbara “BJ” Pickering, U.S. Marines who served in Vietnam; and Mary T. Cohoe, who served during the Vietnam War as an American Red Cross nurse.
“I am honored that we were represented on Veterans Day, an honor that we Navajo women veterans do not receive often” said Onesalt.
Anthony said that “as veterans, we have paved a way for younger generations, active duty and veterans to have more opportunities to serve our country.”
As one of three Navajo women who traveled to Virginia, I had the pleasure of speaking as the Air Force representative giving the service tribute.
In my statements, I first spoke at length in the Diné language about our four sacred mountains, clanship and a tribute to the Navajo Code Talkers who helped win World War II using the Navajo language. And the Piscataway and Pamunkey nations on whose land we were celebrating Veterans Day.
I spoke of my early childhood experiences about airplanes, wondering who got to fly and where were they flying to. This curiosity led to an interest in the U.S. Air Force.
Entering military service, I marveled at what I could accomplish as I loved challenges. I started out as a first lieutenant, shortly being promoted to a captain (03). I was already a registered nurse.
Altus Air Force base took us to Oklahoma, then my dream was to enter the “cream of the crop” – flight nursing.
I was selected and sent to flight training where trainees had to pass the flight physical and Flight School exam, which were tough to get through. Then followed others like survival training, trauma care training and others before being sent to an aeromedical evacuation site.
I got Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to serve Europe, the Middle East, and the United States.
I talked about a highlight in my service as medical crew director during the repatriation of three young U.S. Army soldiers captured by the Yugoslav Army in 1999.
It was a mission deeply ingrained. We prepared for the worst, but were blessed instead as the three were able to walk on their own, bruised but smiling and happy to see Americans to the rescue.
My last base to serve was at the Davis Monthan Air Force base in Tucson before transitioning into the U.S. Public Health Service where I retired as a captain (06) officer.
The Military Women’s Memorial, formerly the Women in Military Service for America, was founded by then Brigadier Gen. Wilma Vaught. Through her service, she was able to raise $45 million to design and build the 33,000-foot memorial which features an education center, interactive exhibits, and a world class collection of military women’s stories.
A gift shop has many WIMSA items from which the proceeds support the mission of the memorial to tell stories, document women’s service and create programs and events like the Veterans Day celebrations.
The Navajo Women Veterans Group was founded by Angela Barney-Nez in the late 1990s. Establishing a relationship with the WIMSA, they have been invited to their events in the Military Women’s Memorial since 1997 when the Memorial opened leading the parade over the Potomac River.
The NWVG formed the Blue Star Mothers of America on Navajo land, bringing its national president and her vice president to the Navajo Nation Council in 2004, and enrolling Navajo women into the BSMA organization.
The group was busy with activities around Veterans Day and Memorial Day. They have travelled to the capital numerous times to participate in events. They are available to speak at functions.
In my speech, I also mentioned the five mottos of the military services, “Semper Fidelis” of the U.S. Marines; “Semper Paratus,” of the U.S. Coast Guard; “Honor, Courage, Commitment,” of the U.S. Navy; “This We’ll Defend” of the U.S. Army; “Aim High, Fly, Flight, Win” of the U.S. Air Force; and the new U.S. Space Force’s “Semper Supra.”
I ended with stating how these mottos represent who we are in the United States military: a place where we learn, grow, and make a difference.
If you are a woman, a veteran or active duty, please register with the Military Women’s Memorial Her Story online at www.womensmemorial.org.
Thank you to all veterans for their service. We salute you!
Bazhnibah, aka Ruth Kawano, is a registered nurse, MSN, U.S. PHS retired, captain, U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps, a writer and photographer.